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Ponies and Laminitis - Are All Prone?

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  • Ponies and Laminitis - Are All Prone?

    I have several ponies stabled at home that are very hardy. This is a new barn and the first time I've had my horses at home. I have an allweather paddock that's very generous in size, which is being used quite a bit this winter!

    I'm very nervous about spring, however. When they moved into the barn this fall, I had them wear grazing muzzles since they weren't used to lush pasture. They are turned out all day.

    Do all the "rules" with laminitis apply if a pony has a healthy weight and has never had laminitis? Or, are all ponies at risk for laminitis?

    I've read they should be turned out 20 minutes a day for the first week, then add 10 minutes every few days. I'd assume the rest of the day, they go back in the allweather or wear their grazing muzzles (which they hate). I'm thinking..... it will take forever until they can have ample turnout on the grass.

    I don't know if I should treat them as at risk for laminitis, and be really conservative with their turnout, or if they can go straight to the grass paddocks since they have never had it.

  • #2
    I think all horses are at risk for laminitis. Certainly, older, heavier, cresty neck, ponies with a past history of laminitis and who are grazing 24/7 in rich pasture, are at greater risk than young, thin, TBs, on a dirt lot, but all horses seem to be at risk. It is always hard to decide how much risk you are willing to assume. 6 years ago, my horse got laminitis in February on a snowy day, probably related to contaminated hay cubes. This past June, we had a mild laminitis after a red maple limb blew into our pasture from a neighbor's tree in a big wind storm. Do the best you can to prevent laminitis, but there is no way to always prevent it.


    • #3
      Think about the environment most of our pony breeds came from (and I imagine most grade ponies in US have a good chunk of Shetland). Being thrifty out on the heath is great, but not so much when food abounds. I think any animal that is an easy keeper is at risk (that includes humans...DM type II is going through the roof)


      • #4
        Developing laminitis from an insult such as contaminated hay or red maple leaves is really not at all in the same category as what the OP is asking

        For ponies - I would assume the risk is there and manage accordingly.

        And while the easy keepers probably are at a higher risk, don't at all rule out the potential just because the horse is lean and a "harder" keeper. Sometimes the very metabolic issues that make them harder keepers are what predisposes them to developing laminitis.
        The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


        • #5
          Among many farriers and vets, there is an adage. "There are only two kinds of ponies. Them that are foundered and them that are going to." IOW, its not a question of "If", rather, "When".


          • #6
            Originally posted by Rick Burten View Post
            Among many farriers and vets, there is an adage. "There are only two kinds of ponies. Them that are foundered and them that are going to." IOW, its not a question of "If", rather, "When".
            That's entertaining, and really the simplest truth their is to it.

            Are ponies more prone? Um, yeah. Always a higher risk with a thrifty pony. I'm not saying the other lighter riding varieties don't founder, but it's less likely given the same set of circumstances.


            • #7
              Originally posted by AKB View Post
              I think all horses are at risk for laminitis. Certainly, older, heavier, cresty neck, ponies with a past history of laminitis and who are grazing 24/7 in rich pasture, are at greater risk than young, thin, TBs, on a dirt lot, but all horses seem to be at risk.
              I don't think an accurate statement for the pony you describe would be 'at risk'. I would just go ahead and dig the grave for that scenario!


              • #8
                It's funny, I had a 13-ish hand Welsh pony when I was twelve (1972). She was always on pasture, and as a dumb kid with no adult oversight, I'm sure I fed her way too much grain. I'll be darned if she never foundered; in fact, I don't remember her ever having a lame day in the eight years I owned her! Sounds like dumb luck, I guess. My little 12 hand Welsh I own now is IR and I have to watch his food consumption like a hawk!
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                • #9
                  Considering the consequences of getting it wrong, I would consider virtually any "pony breed" pony (as opposed to a teeny, tiny TB or an Arabian at 14 hands) at increased risk and handle accordingly. There is very little downside, other than the time it takes and grumpy pony faces, to muzzling and going carefully with lush forage.

                  I had a 13-ish hand Welsh pony when I was twelve (1972). She was always on pasture, and as a dumb kid with no adult oversight, I'm sure I fed her way too much grain.
                  All of the ponies at the barns I grew up with in the 70s were on pasture, too. But they worked their little pony butts off, too--lessons, riding, hunting, showing, driving, etc.
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                  • #10
                    Deltawave had a great point about the pony breed vs. size. My 14.3 Fjord is way more risky than even the mini mare I had her for a while.

                    The ponies I grew up around did indeed work their tails off! I think another factor might be that grass seed is now genetically modified to make dairy cattle produce more....that's the stuff you're putting in the field when you seed a little here and there for improvements. The "equine" mixes are simply seed designed for maximum production in cattle that horses find yummy or withstand traffic.

                    BTW, I wish I would have known about the grass seed sooner because that's my entire field. If I had known, I would have just let nature take it's course and let them eat whatever wanted to grow out there...pretty or not.


                    • #11
                      Probably the pony under the kid care, was ALSO being used heavily. It helps if an animal can be worked at least several hours a day, or even all day, to prevent them getting laminitic. They can't be eating much during that riding time, and the exercise is great! Problem comes when kid quits riding so much, gets a new horse but keeps the pony. Pony with no work blimps up, gets laminitic the next season. Ponies NEED to be worked hard, exercise and less to eat is so much better for their health in keeping them from problems.

                      Otherwise I agree with the other folks, you have to limit intake by ponies or easy keeper horses. We have large horses, who are only pastured between 8-12 hours a day in summer. It takes me about 6 weeks to get them changed over to full time grazing after grass starts coming in, adding a bit of time every 3 days. I figure it takes that much time to grow the stomach flora that can digest grass, not just hay. I want them to be safe, have enough digestive flora to manage grazing with no reaction to a loaded stomach with rich grass. You would be AMAZED at how much an animal can ingest in 15-20 minutes of grazing!! So that limited turnout IS BETTER, building up the grazing time slowly. That grass stomach flora must be developed with time, some grass in diet to start the process, but just doesn't happen instantly! I look at it as "getting the equines fit to graze" like any other conditioning program, horses need to take time to be ready for it.

                      Ours get worked at least 2hours every outing, which is done between 3 to 5 days a week, we do ring time or mileage down the road. LOTS of exercise to get them fit for work and competition. Once they get switched to grass only, that is ALL the forage they get, no hay in the stall unless they are very old. They do get a small helping of grain and wet beet pulp for coming in to be stalled daily. Less than a pound each, and they are 16-17H horses. They don't NEED more food than that, and they stay in very good condition, have shiny coats that will blind you, and able to do the hard work we ask of them, all on a grass diet. They were bred to MANAGE on grass, it is what the old farmers, owners and original breeders expected them to do. Mares raise nice foals, all on grass diet. They were not rich folks supporting race horses with special feeds.

                      Modern owners really need to be careful with feeding animals, especially ponies, so they don't blimp out. Most animals could do with a lot more exercise, which would help them all over physically. Otherwise keeping them dry-lotted, stalled, for 12 hours a day is almost required, even with grazing muzzles. Those small breeds of ponies survived on seaweed, tough weeds that grew on rocks, and still had to turn in a good days work, look nice doing it. The rich grass we plant now is an big overload to their systems, even when working now.


                      • #12
                        BTW, I wish I would have known about the grass seed sooner because that's my entire field. If I had known, I would have just let nature take it's course and let them eat whatever wanted to grow out there...pretty or not.
                        That's an interesting point! I *tried* to seed my brand new pastures when we bought our farm, but it was a summer of epic drought and nothing would grow. I gave up, intending to try again the year after, but eventually we DID get rain and eventually things started to grow. Tough, clumpy grass, a bunch of clover, and a variety of fescues and variations on crabgrass, etc. Not exactly what I had planned on! HOWEVER, it is TOUGH as nails, quite drought resistant (natural selection!) and the same horses, when pastured at my place, do really nicely as opposed to when they're pastured at my trainer's barn, where they do re-seed every year, where they get proportionally fatter with the same amount of grazing time.

                        I still don't dare put my Shetland out there without her muzzle, though. Never ever.
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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Win1 View Post
                          BTW, I wish I would have known about the grass seed sooner because that's my entire field. If I had known, I would have just let nature take it's course and let them eat whatever wanted to grow out there...pretty or not.
                          Hm, I wonder if that's why my mare's breeders have had only one case of founder in about 15 years of having their Morgans on pasture. Morgans are definitely prone to laminitis/founder, but theirs is "unimproved" pasture.
                          You have to have experiences to gain experience.

                          1998 Morgan mare Mythic Feronia "More Valley Girl Than Girl Scout!"


                          • #14
                            The neighbor across the road raised Morgans, mostly on pasture with no issues and they weren't half as fat as my boys that were actually working. I feed no hay in the growing season through October and have 4 horses on 4 acres.


                            • Original Poster

                              Thanks so much for your responses!!!!! Very helpful to know. When they are used to longer grazing hours, do you still not let them graze around dusk when NSC levels are high? They hate the grazing muzzles and I'm not wild about the rub marks from them, and they are not so great when it's hot and humid in the summer.

                              I actually ride my ponies - they are my hunt horses so they do get a lot of exercise. Still, it seems they can get laminitis if the conditions are right. We had a drought last year and ironically, when most people think the grass has no nutrients, it's high in NSC during stress like that.


                              • #16
                                There are so many causes to laminitis - while there are markers and ponies do seem to have a propensity to do so my personal experience has been exactly the opposite.

                                Our Connemara x mare has the IR look with the cresty neck & she is an air fern for the most part. Pig Pen is the poster child for air fern pony. We manage them but they definitely don't live on dirt 24/7. Spring grass is our worst enemy. When it starts to really come in, we pull them off and wean them onto it. Our ponies - knock on every piece of wood I can get my hands on - have been extraordinarily sound & healthy with what I consider minimal management. I know SO many ponies who have never had an issue w/laminitis. Horses, on the other hand...

                                My now deceased show horse (thin skinned, harder to keep, TBxQH) suffered laminitis twice with her former owner - 1st time right after foaling out; 2nd time the following year after being turned out on 3 acres of picture perfect, lush pasture. We had a geriatric Cushings mare who foundered...not a big surprise. Best friend's fine boned, 16h TBx gelding reacted to an injection of appropriately administered Banamine (vet's best guess), foundered on the front and less than a week later foundered on the REAR. Very weird. She had another horse - 14.1 Arab - intermittent lameness in alternating front feet over a period of about 8 months; eventually diagnosed as laminitis when the lameness disappeared and then resurrected itself in a big way bilaterally. Who knows what triggered it...horse was weird in every single way possible to begin with. He ended up being donated to vet school for a drug trial.

                                If it were me, I'd probably wean the ponies onto the new pastures. Manage your ponies with a keen eye. Monitor the pasture they are on and make wise decisions accordingly. Good luck - I'm happy to report this is the closest we've been to spring in 2013 (I can't wait for warmer weather!!)


                                • #17
                                  I would get used to the muzzles. I've found duct tape around the edges where it rubs along with applying show sheen to those areas helps a lot with rubbing. Once they have them on for a few weeks the rubbing isn't as big of an issue. Mine wore their muzzles in the mid day record heat last summer, over 100 heat index, with no issues. If you're worried about the heat with the muzzle bring them in/dirt lot early.


                                  • #18
                                    My very hairy Shetland, when she gets a little sweaty under her muzzle (and it's rigged out to be a VERY complicated contraption, because she will escape from it every chance she gets) just comes in and plunks her whole head in the waterer, shakes it off and goes trotting back out to the grass.
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